Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On reading and readings

I just finished the very enjoyable Monstress, a collection of stories by Lysley Tenorio, an American author who uses his connection to his native Phillipines to write a diverse collection of stories about living lives drawn between these two poles. Although I have a read a fair number of anthologies over the last few years, I haven't lately been reading a lot of single author story collections. My loss, really, because, though there is something to be said for reading a story by itself, there is another kind of pleasure in reading a collection of work by one writer, as his or her concerns and themes tend to be amplified by this grouping.

I actually started this book awhile ago, for a somewhat unusual reason. One of my bookloving friends, Steve,  is always looking to cajole or coerce a few of his cohorts into different literary activities, so his friend Richard and I all carpooled up to UCSC to see Tenorio, who was taking part in the Living Writers Reading Series. I started the book late, and so had only read a few of the stories before I heard him. By chance, the story he read was "Superassassin", which I had only just begun.

This sequence of events led me to become aware of the book in a way that I might not otherwise have done. Tenorio read in competent way, and Steve and Richard both said that they felt their enjoyment of the book was enhanced by hearing it. But I felt that I had actually read it in my head a bit better than I was hearing. This was because I was hearing it in the voice of a young teenager and not in the more worldly voice of an adult college teacher. If I hadn't already had the one voice in my head, I might not have noticed. Also, if I hadn't just recently been listening to Leonard Nimoy's masterly, dramatic reading of "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love", which I linked to here in May, I might not have realized how much a trained actor can lend to a reading.

Now obviously, my sense of liking the voice in my head better was a minority view among the three of us. And I am on kind of a roll with this lately, feeling like I don't want to see movies of novels and so on. Tenorio had some interesting things to say about reading his stories in front of different audiences--people sometimes find things funny that he didn't intend, and vis versa. The group we were sitting with was largely college students, and they laughed at certain things I didn't think were meant to be funny, but it wasn't too jarring.

An odd thing is when you find yourself disagreeing slightly with the author about the character he is describing. Usually, you don't know this unless you go to an event like this and the author opens up a bit about a story. In this case, I thought that Tenorio might not have realized how sympathetic he had made his "superassassin", and how much the reader might be weighted toward hope that things might in the end be all right.      


  1. Seana, thank you for writing about Lysley Tenorio and his collection of stories, MONSTRESS. I had never heard of him until now. Listening to Tenorio read from his collection even while you are reading the book must have been an enriching experience. Did you get to speak to him after the reading session?

  2. Prashant--sorry, I completely missed this comment! I did get to speak to him briefly afterwards, but mainly just to say I had enjoyed his stories. Yes, give Monstress a try. I think you'll enjoy the collection!